The Chains of Femininity Essay

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Throughout The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath explores a number of themes, particularly regarding the gender roles, and subsequently, the mental health care system for women. Her 19-year-old protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is the vessel through which Plath poses many probing questions about these topics to the reader. In the 1950’s when the novel was set, women were held to a high standard- to be attractive but pure, intelligent but submissive, and to generally accept the notion of bettering oneself only in order to make life more comfortable for the significant male in her life. Esther not only deals with the typical problems a woman would face in her time, but has to experience those things through the lens of mental illness- though it is up for …show more content…
Despite this initial attraction to and appreciation of Doreen’s messy, flirty lifestyle, Esther still remains stuck in a traditional mindset. She turns on Doreen after she witnesses what she perceives as Doreen’s whorish, sloppy behavior in the incident with Lenny. Esther even states that “[d]eep down, I would be loyal to Betsey and her innocent friends. It was Betsy I resembled at heart” (22). Earlier in the novel, Doreen and Esther had made fun of Betsey’s wholesome, goody-goody personality, calling her “Pollyanna Cowgirl” (6) behind her back. Even though Esther was originally awed by Doreen’s boldness, she feels naturally compelled to stay true to the clean, innocent lifestyle preferred for women in the 1950’s. Esther’s judgmental attitude is not just reserved for her peers. She also makes decisions about adults- her superiors and mentors- based upon their physical attractiveness. When Esther first brings up Jay Cee, her boss at the magazine, she describes her as “plug-ugly” (6), and then goes on to describe her accomplishments as if they were much less significant than they really were- simply because she was unattractive by Esther’s standards, she became less valuable of a person. Esther says, “Jay Cee wanted to teach me something, all the old ladies I ever knew wanted to teach me something, but suddenly I didn’t think they had anything to teach me” (6). Despite the fact that Jay Cee is a prominent editor (one of Esther’s desired

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